Nuclear Deterrent Options – the outcome of the 2015 General Election will one or another decide the future of the Submarine Deterrent Policy that started with the Strategic Submarine RESOLUTION commissioned in October 1967, armed with POLARIS missiles.
The Liberal Democrats are prepared to endorse a scaled down version of the £25bn programme to replace the TRIDENT missile submarine and an internal review by the Ministry of Defence is expected to produce a "menu of options" including putting the UK's nuclear weapons on "standby" so they could be reactivated at short notice. The warheads would be launched with Cruise missiles from the existing ASTUTE class Fleet Submarines, with the two elements kept at separate locations. This would save billions of pounds as the Government would not need to replace the four (4) VANGUARD Class submarines, one of which is continuously at sea. The MoD review is due to conclude by the end of this year and, while some details will be kept secret, a summary is likely to be published early next year.
The "standby" option is winning growing support among Liberal Democrats and is expected to feature in their 2015 election manifesto if it is given the go-ahead by the MoD study. The move would allow the Liberal Democrats to fight the election on a platform distinct from that of not replacing TRIDENT like for like but some other cheaper (and less effective ?) option.
The Conservatives remain strongly committed to providing a "like-for-like replacement" for TRIDENT by 2028, a process begun by the previous Labour Government. The Conservatives would almost certainly portray the "standby" plan as too risky in an uncertain and dangerous world and argue that the UK must remain a full member of the nuclear club to maintain a credible deterrent. Although contracts worth £1.3bn for the new TRIDENT system have been announced recently, the Coalition parties have agreed to differ on the issue and have put off the final decision on the UK's deterrent until 2016. The alternatives can be summarised as :
· "Like for like" replacement of existing submarine-launched TRIDENT from 2028 at a cost of £25b favoured by Conservatives and, for now, by Labour.
· Scaled down version of TRIDENT with warheads launched with Cruise missiles from ASTUTE class Fleet Submarines. Much cheaper. Likely to feature in a 2015 Liberal Democratic manifesto.
· Opt for an air launched nuclear deterrent - was considered by previous Labour Government..
· Scrap the nuclear deterrent the favoured option by CND, the SNP and the Green Party.